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Symbiome – Economy of Symbiosis

Symbiome – economy of symbiosis is a biological prototype for a complex set of social relationships among species, which establish mutual symbiotic relationships according to favorable conditions and common needs.

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Miniature Ecosystem
Symbiome is inhabited by two biological species that nurture a symbiotic relationship: a plant of a red clover Trifolium pratense and a bacteria of the genus Rhizobium, a rhizobia. Favorable environmental conditions in the system, in which both species have mutual benefits, are generated by lighting and the blowing of air into the hydroponic liquid. A symbiotic relationship leads to the exchange of key nutrients: the plant supplies the bacteria with carbon compounds, while the bacteria supply the plant with nitrogen compounds.
Rhisobia fixes nitrogen from air, which causes acidity of the liquid – or with other words – a drop in the pH level in the vicinity of the plant’s roots. Plants need fixed nitrogen for growth and basic processes of life, such as the production of amino acids, proteins and DNA. Furthermore, fixed nitrogen is quite difficult to be found in nature. The symbiosis between the plant and bacteria thus allows their survival and consequently the development of larger and wider ecological connections.

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Symbiosis as a Biological Feedback Loop
The relationship between red clover and rhizobia is defined by a biological feedback loop, within which, both species are provided with the means for survival. The more acidic the liquid nutrients, the better the conditions for growth and symbiosis. Indirect measurements of the level of fixed nitrogen in the hydroponic liquid in the Symbiome installation affect the speed of dripping water. The greater the degree of symbiosis, the greater the flow of water drops, and the more intense are the ripples on the water surface.
The ripples on the water surface are detected by a light sensor that translates them to sound via an interface. The sound is generated in real time and filtered through phase modulation, which depends on the specific time-space. It maps the situation of matching and differences in the process of symbiosis. Symbiosis is not an idealized relationship, but a situation in which the species are continuously negotiating the mutual use of natural resources. The environment is not something external, but is generated in relationships and is a part of these relationships. Thus, the visitors in the Symbiome installation who exhale carbon dioxide, become remote actors in the symbiotic relationship.

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Symbiosis, Adaptation and Production of Culture
Clover and rhizobia are also a part of the human’s symbiotic relationships in the process of food production. For example, agronomists value clover as a beneficial plant in the crop rotation, which is able to enrich depleted soil with nitrogen. This process takes place with the help of symbiotic relationship with rhizobia. Bacteria initially enter the plant as parasites, but the relationship is then turned into a symbiosis due to mutual benefits. The Rhizobia is then nested in the root system of the clover and develops nodules, while the clover provides them with favorable conditions for survival – with a home.
Such a symbiosis can be understood as a metaphor for the economic relationships between natives and migrants who may benefit from each other only when they are based on reciprocity. Furthermore, sound waves in the installation are an analogy for the production of cultural content, which is not based on the dichotomy between the dominant culture and various forms of minority cultures. Mutual cultural continuum is only possible when the society understands that the aim of the symbiosis is not only an economic relationship, but also a method for the production of cognitive processes.

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Economy as an Ecosystem of Relationships
Contemporary market economy favors predation and competition between species, but neglects other forms of symbiotic cohabitation and collaboration. It is based on an incorrect understanding of evolutionary processes, which reduces the diversity of such processes to the idea of a struggle for existence. Even dialectical Marxism has – in practice – implemented class struggle, instead of a classless socialist society, which aimed to eradicate violence of privileged against deprivileged. Such practices reflect a misunderstanding of evolution as a process of struggle for existance. Thus, class struggle did not lead to a classless society, but to violence, reintroduction of capitalism and re-traditionalization. Successful evolutionary processes between species are not a struggle, but call for forms of mutualities, cooperations and negotiations. Symbiome – economy of symbiosis raises the question of how to think systems of injustice and inequality in society, from the view point of mutuality, instead of deepening the contradictions.

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Symbiome – Economy of Symbiosis, 2016

Artists: Saša Spačal, Mirjan Švagelj

Exhibition curator: Ida Hiršenfelder
Text: Ida Hiršenfelder, Saša Spačal
3D modeling and installment plans: Blaž Šolar
Associate professional: Anil Podgornik
Special thanks: Slavko Glamočanin
Professional technical assistent: Alkimist – kovačija in laboratorij
Photos: Dejan Habicht / Archive Moderna galerija and Tadej Reissner
Production: Agapea
Contact: sasa@agapea.si
Year: 2016

Future exhibition: Kiblix Festival 2017, Maribor, Slovenia [Nov. 2017]
Past exhibition: Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, +MSUM, Ljubljana, Slovenia [Dec. – Jan. 2016/7]

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